Updated see below the fold
Following on from a Facebook discussion initiated yesterday by Robin Ward and a blog article at Archbishop Cranmer there have been several mainstream media reports of the guidance issued by the Diocese of Canterbury relating to this topic.
The original guidance which was published in 2015, so not a new development, can be found here. The relevant section is on page 33.
The contentious wording is this:
Any priest hearing a confession, regularly or otherwise, must say prior to hearing that confession the following statement of confidentiality and safeguarding:
“If you touch on any matter in your confession that raises a concern about the wellbeing or safeguarding of another person or yourself, I am duty bound to pass that information on to the relevant agencies, which means that I am unable to keep such information confidential.”
The diocese issued a clarification yesterday in response to media queries: Confession & safeguarding.
“Safeguarding children and vulnerable adults must be our highest priority and is at the heart of all our responsibilities,” said Julian Hills, Diocesan Secretary. “While there have been only a tiny number of criminal cases in which the seal of the confession has been in issue, it is unclear whether a criminal court would favour the responsibility to protect someone from abuse or the requirement of a priest to maintain confidentiality. The decision to issue this guidance arose out of a genuine situation where, during confession, a penitent shared with a priest information about ongoing abuse. In this case, the legal and moral position of the priest was called into question. It was therefore felt by the Diocesan Safeguarding Management Group that clergy must have clear guidance on how to manage situations where the seal of confession may be brought into conflict with their safeguarding responsibilities.
“This guidance has not – as some have claimed – ‘abolished the Seal of the Confessional.’ Rather, it is intended to advise the penitent not to divulge in confession something which would legally compromise the position of the priest – and therefore require that priest to choose between their responsibility to protect someone from harm and the usual requirement of confidentiality.
“The guidance was drafted in early 2015, after seeking independent legal advice and in consultation with the then Acting Head of Delivery for the National Safeguarding Team. We understand that this issue is being considered nationally and that it is due to be discussed by the House of Bishops in December.”
The Times (£) Don’t report abuse during confession, Church warns
This topic has been discussed extensively on Thinking Anglicans in recent years. Here are links to our previous articles:
Forward in Faith has issued this statement: The Diocese of Canterbury and the Seal of the Confessional.
The Guidelines for the Professional Conduct of the Clergy issued in 2015 by the Convocations of Canterbury and York state (in para. 3.5): ‘If a penitent makes a confession with the intention of receiving absolution the priest is forbidden (by the unrepealed Proviso to Canon 113 of the Code of 1603) to reveal or make known to any person what has been confessed. This requirement of absolute confidentiality applies even after the death of the penitent.’
However, the Bishop of Dover has issued the following instruction to clergy in the Diocese of Canterbury and the Deaneries of Guernsey and Jersey: ‘The Bishop emphasises that… Any priest hearing a confession, regularly or otherwise, must say prior to hearing that confession the following statement of confidentiality and safeguarding: “If you touch on any matter in your confession that raises a concern about the wellbeing or safeguarding of another person or yourself, I am duty bound to pass that information on to the relevant agencies, which means that I am unable to keep such information confidential.” ‘ Incredibly, the Diocese of Canterbury has denied that this instruction – which is cast in very wide terms indeed – has effectively ‘abolished the Seal of the Confessional’.
Forward in Faith’s position remains as set out in 2015 in our submission to the working party on the seal of the confessional: we will resist as strongly as we can any attack on the integrity of sacramental Confession.
For a diocese to pre-empt synodical discussion of whether any aspect of ecclesiastical law should be changed is unacceptable. Forward in Faith calls for urgent action to bring the Diocese of Canterbury and the Channel Islands deaneries back into conformity with canon law and with the Guidelines for the Professional Conduct of the Clergy so recently issued by the members of the Houses of Bishops and Clergy in the provincial Convocations. If the Diocese of Canterbury is allowed to continue publicly to incite the clergy to breach canon law, that will set a very worrying precedent.